Editorial: Trusting Boston with our money
Organizers are ramping up the campaign to increase the state income tax. We would support a fair and balanced reform of the state tax code if it generated money for education, road and other infrastructure improvements and boost local aid without hammering the middle class.
Here’s the problem: It is hard to trust Beacon Hill with more of our money. State government has a credibility gap when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
The governor opened the year with a call for major tax law changes. His plan would generate an additional $1.9 billion by raising the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. He would eliminate 44 personal tax deductions and credits. He would also reduce the sales and meals tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent. Only a lame duck governor would propose such an expensive plan.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo weighed in, calling for a smaller tax increase. Like the governor, DeLeo would also make a major investment in transportation and education. He has not detailed where new tax revenue would come, but both income and gas tax hikes have been mentioned.
Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said the governor’s proposal would add a “burden on taxpayers in a difficult time.” He welcomed DeLeo’s suggestion for a more modest revenue increase. The best arguments for an increase are those expressed by supporters of An Act to Invest in Our Communities, House Bill 2553, which would raise the income tax rate from 5.25 to 5.95 percent, but provide relief to middle-class families by raising the personal exemption. A Campaign for Our Communities, a coalition of elected officials, public unions and others, is rallying for passage of the tax law change.
State Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, a co-sponsor of that bill, told a Northampton forum last week he will vote for it to generate more local aid to help cities and towns fund their budgets, pay teachers and provide services.
Kocot’s message comes as local municipal leaders predict a gap between revenue and expenses for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Northampton’s gap of $1.5 million could lead to municipal and school employee layoffs.
The Northampton City Council earlier this month endorsed “a fair and equitable” change in taxes to generate more state aid for the city. Dissenting were councilors Eugene Tacy and David Murphy. In his remarks, Murphy summed up why the public is dubious about a tax increase: “I really think it is delusional to think that if we gave the state the opportunity to raise more money that we’re really going to see that come back to us in an amount that is going to make a big difference.” At a forum on regional tourism in Amherst March 14, state Rep. Denise Andrews, of the 2nd Franklin District, urged the gathering of business and civic leaders to support a tax increase this year. Perhaps sensitive to views like those expressed by Murphy, she closed by saying the Legislature is working to end “mismanagement and waste of tax dollars.” While that is welcome news, we suspect it is more talk than walk.
For example, the MBTA would be a major beneficiary of Gov. Deval Patrick’s tax plan. The MBTA is a known money pit. Where is the plan to better manage the MBTA?
Cronyism and nepotism still drive creation and hiring of too many state jobs. What steps can be taken to strip government of unnecessary jobs and guarantee only qualified applicants are hired?
Inadequate construction oversight and poor maintenance of public buildings allows them to fall into disrepair.
Then there are the bad apples at the top who treat the public’s money as their own. Former state Treasurer Tim Cahill this month agreed to pay a $100,000 fine to settle charges he used $1.5 million earmarked to promote the lottery to advance his gubernatorial campaign. Also this month, Sherri Killins, commissioner of Early Education and Care, resigned after it was revealed she was enrolled in a superintendent training program and not at her job in Boston. Her boss did not know this. Killins, who lives in New Haven, Conn., earned $197,600 a year. An investigation is under way. And let’s not forget that the previous three speakers of the Massachusetts House were indicted in federal courts for a variety of bribery, extortion, fraud and obstruction of justice charges.
If the Legislature wants to pass a tax increase, it has to be part of a package that not only minimizes the impact on the middle class and seniors, but addresses state-level waste and mismanagement and guarantees a significant and sustainable boost in local aid to cities and towns.
Otherwise, expect taxpayer groups to launch a ballot initiative to roll back the income tax increase.